am 7. Juni 2013
If you read this book carefully you will discover that this is an economic thriller. Who or which group is responsible for increasing unemployment and unsustainable growth of government debt? Why are recessions so deep? Why does it take so many years to recover? The author identifies "Austerity" and bankers as the main culprit. My conclusion, based on this book is, that the main culprits are the most influential economists starting with John Locke in 1690, David Hume, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Keynes, the Austrian School with Friedrich Hayek Ludwig von Mises, Milton Keynes and the German Ordo Liberalism and Milton Friedman.
These economists view of governments, according to the author, is " can't live with it, can't live without it, don't want to pay for them."
With the exception of Milton Keynes all these economists assume that governments and parliaments are irresponsible and incompetent. They suggest that all interference of the government in the economy has a negative effect whatever they do. Milton Friedman for example assumed that all unemployment was voluntary and never due to a lack of demand and that any attempt to stimulate the economy would always and only show up as inflation. Ricardo, long before Friedman expressed the same differently when referring to a downturn in the economy "The condition of the workers is most wretched". "Attempts to amend the condition of the poor instead of making the poor rich poor, make the rich poor."
One of the many examples described in the book is the danger of "gold standard" even though Churchill considered that returning to the Gold Standard was the biggest mistake he made. France lost the war in 1940 to a large extent because it remained on the Gold Standard, practiced austerity, and the Banque de France with its private shareholders refused to increase the budget for defense expenditure, as gold would flee the country.
Keynes had a different idea. He believed that when a decline started government should start projects financed with government funds (taxpayers’ money), to create employment. This can and did lead to inflation and unsustainable government debt unless it was accompanied by other measures at the same time.
The author's main point is that these simplistic ideas, like leave the market alone, reduce taxes, reduce government expenditure, do not stimulate the economy, do not create employment, reduce the government debt without any serious analysis are dangerous. A slogan like "Growth friendly fiscal consolidation" is a sound bite for austerity. Reversing a decline requires taking the right actions at the right time. For example reducing government expenditure when the economy is declining leads to a longer and deeper recession than necessary.
The author presents the cases where stimulus worked. He also analyses the cases usually cited by the economists that austerity works and demonstrates faulty analysis. The book is stronger in what not to do than in what should be done instead. In a decline most countries have to make structural changes to restore competitiveness, like increasing the pension age, make it easier to start and finance new innovative businesses, change the tax system, make changes in regulations, taking away some and adding others.
No president tried more ways to get out of a depression than President Franklin Roosevelt which included abandoning the gold standard, guaranteeing bank deposits and government financed jobs as well as social security. The only reference in the book is to the mini recession in 1937-38 that the author ascribes to Roosevelt reducing economic stimulus too soon. That was not what Roosevelt concluded. Roosevelt said that companies had produced far more than they could sell, leading to excessive inventory with the result that companies fired a large number of workers to reduce their inventory. Statistics indicate that Roosevelt was right. Roosevelt initially thought that businesses had reduced investments to force the government to remove the social security systems the government had introduced (interfering in the economy). An investigation showed that this was not the case. Roosevelt nevertheless stimulated the economy and the mini recession ended
The final chapter in book describes in detail how the economic crisis in Iceland was caused by deregulation of the banks. The policies pursued have resulted in faster turnaround than in Ireland and the UK. The case illustrates that TINA (There Is No Alternative) never applies to ending a recession. There is always a better one. The book helps to identify alternatives.